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DETROIT — The Detroit Red Wings got what they wanted: Breathing room in their Western Conference quarterfinal series against the Anaheim Ducks.
After Damien Brunner scored the game-winning goal with less than five minutes left in overtime Monday night, the Red Wings collectively exhaled, then packed their bags for California. And in that time, several of the Red Wings considered that 3-2 overtime win provided a certain revival in the best-of-seven series.
“That’s been the whole talk,” said defenseman Brendan Smith, whose goal tied Monday’s game at 1-1 less than 90 seconds into the third period. “Coach [Mike Babcock] has been saying that, that we’re making this a best-of-three series. All of us have been saying that. We needed to win this game. It was a must-win for us.”
With the series tied at 2-2, the Ducks host the Red Wings at 10 p.m. today at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. The Red Wings flew to Southern California on Tuesday and did not skate in preparation for Game 5.
Monday’s win guaranteed the quarterfinal series will return Friday to Detroit for Game 6 — which could become a series clincher for the winner of today’s game. Taking a 3-2 series lead also could also swing the series in one team’s favor, though many are quick to note it takes four games to close out the series.
Still, the Ducks knew after Monday’s loss that they missed a prime opportunity to take control of the series, and the Ducks briefly contemplated the what-ifs or what-could-have-beens. Anaheim, however, anticipates a Game 5 similar to Monday night.
“We knew it was going to be a tight series,” said Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller, who made 46 saves in Game 4. “We don’t think we’re going to roll through. Just because we won the last game [Game 3], we didn’t think that it’s going to be easy. We knew they were probably going to play their best game of the series [in Game 4], and I think that’s what they did.”
Part of the reason for the Wings’ recent success? The performances of their younger players in the opening round, including Brunner, Smith, and centers Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist, who have combined for four goals and six assists in four games.
“It’s unbelievable to see how everybody’s stepped up and played so strong,” Smith said. “These guys are stepping up and playing huge minutes, and not even acting like young guys. These rookies have been really solid for us and I have to throw myself in there, I’m a rookie, too.
“But I think that if we stay the course and play our game that’s got us to this position, it’s going to help us out.”
Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said he didn’t see the same desperation out of his team that he saw from the Red Wings.
“I don’t think, quite frankly, we had 20 players playing,” Boudreau said. “We had some passengers. If we don’t have all four lines going, you have to mix and match. I didn’t want to mix and match, but we didn’t have guys going.”
Yet like the Red Wings, the Ducks also know what’s at stake today in Southern California.
“It’s a long game,” said Ducks left wing Matt Beleskey, who scored goals in Games 3 and 4. “It’s a playoff game. That’s how it’s going to be every single game. I think we knew this was not going to be an easy series. This is the Detroit Red Wings. We’re heading home, tied up. There’s a reason we have home ice advantage. Gotta go home and get the job done.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.